Occasionally you’ll hear a voice in the soundscape of UNINTERRUPTED, woven in amongst the instrumentation and natural sounds of the original score composed by Owen Belton. The voice is a recording of renowned Neskonlith elder and ethnobotanist, Dr. Mary Thomas sharing a story about salmon in her first language, Secwepemcstin.

A young child in the early 1900’s , Dr. Thomas learned about  Secwepemc culture and language from her grandparents – until her time in a Kamloops residential school forcibly silenced those early teachings.

It would be decades before Mary Thomas, by then the mother of 15 children picked up the thread of her grandparents’ teachings, after being inspired by a school assignment for her youngest daughter Bonnie.  The school project led to work with a museum – and then Mary began interviewing elders, learning traditional skills and taking in the knowledge of generations.

She became an authority on the traditional uses of native plants – sharing her knowledge both as an educator and an advocate for the preservation of precious wetlands.  Working with others in the Shuswap region, Mary started the Salmon River Roundtable saving many kilometres of salmon habitat.  Serving her community she also pioneered early childhood development practices, winning a medal of excellence for her work; and now two scholarships in her name are given annually to students of Indigenous early childhood education.  Before her death in 2007, Mary was also recognized with two honourary doctorates, from the University of Victoria and the University of North Carolina.

In 2021, an exhibition detailing the life and accomplishments of Dr. Mary Thomas was launched at the R.J. Haney Museum, brought together by Mary’s longtime friends and colleagues and her daughter Bonnie.  The exhibition continues through September of 2023 – but if you can’t make it to Salmon Arm, you can catch audio recordings of Mary and others here.


Canada Wild Arts Society is grateful to the Switzmalph Cultural Society and Mary’s family for permission to use a recording of her storytelling.